One hundred twenty-eight cases of a new and potentially more contagious COVID-19 variant have been detected in 17 cities across Turkey, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced on social media on Friday.
“We have to be vigilant about the threat of mutations. One of the main factors of the sharp increase in [coronavirus] cases in Europe is the new variant of the virus,” Koca tweeted, adding that new variants could pose a threat to the country’s vaccination drive.
In early January, Turkey detected the new COVID-19 variant for the first time in 15 people who entered the country from the United Kingdom.
Although Koca attempted to reassure the public, saying that travelers infected with the variant and their contacts had been isolated and that the situation was under control, new cases of the variant kept appearing in Turkey’s cities.
The Turkish government imposed a 14-day quarantine on a village in the southeastern province of Muş after detecting a case of the COVID-19 variant in mid-January.
Turkey began a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Jan. 14 and has vaccinated nearly 2 million people, starting with health care workers and top government officials.
The country also has been implementing weeknight curfews and weekend lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus since early December.
Turkey reported 6,912 new cases and 131 deaths over the past 24 hours, with the country’s total coronavirus death toll currently standing at 25,736. The latest official data also showed 1,740 COVID-19 patients in critical condition.
The country, which reported its first coronavirus case on March 11, is ranked 74th among 98 countries in a COVID Performance Index published by Australian think tank the Lowy Institute on Thursday.
Turkey’s poor ranking on the index contradicts the claim of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government that the country is among the best-performing countries in the world in terms of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The AKP government has been criticized for failing to competently manage the pandemic and allowing it to get out of control by not reporting the real number of infected people until late November and lagging behind other countries in beginning COVID-19 inoculations.